Leopard | African Wildlife Foundation

The leopard is the most
secretive and elusive big cat

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Conservation Status:

Near Threatened

  • Listed as 'vulnerable' in 1986 by IUCN
  • There are 9 recognized subspecies
  • Native to more than 35 African countries

Quick Facts

Scientific name

Panthera pardus


Up to 140 lb.


About 28 in. at the shoulder

Life span

Up to 21 years in captivity


Bush and riverine forest




2.5 months




Where do leopards live?

Leopards tend to favor rocky landscapes with dense bush and riverine forests, but they have also shown to be highly adaptable to many places in both warm and cold climates. 

Tags: Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, DRC, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kazungula, Maasai Steppe, Samburu, East Africa, Southern Africa, West/Central Africa View Africa | Habitat

Physical Characteristics

What are leopards?

Leopards are members of the big cat family. These large carnivores are powerfully built with long bodies, relatively short legs, and a broad head. The leopard’s tawny coat is covered in dark, irregular spots called rosettes. The spots are circular in East African leopards but square in Southern African leopards.

Behavior & Diet

Leopards are cunning, opportunistic hunters.

Their prey ranges from strong-scented carrion, fish, reptiles, and birds to mammals such as rodents, hares, warthogs, antelopes, and baboons. 

They are strong climbers.

Pound for pound, the leopard is the strongest climber of all the big cats. It spends much of its time in trees as it stalks prey and even as it eats. Both lions and hyenas will take away a leopard’s kill if they can. To prevent this, the leopard will often store its kill high up in tree branches where it can feed in relative safety. 

Leopards like their space.

They are predominantly nocturnal, solitary creatures. Each individual leopard has a home range that overlaps with its neighbors. The male leopard has a larger range, and a single male’s range will often overlap with the ranges of several females. Ranges are marked with urine and claw marks.

Female leopards set down roots when cubs are born.

The female leopard typically gives birth to a litter of two or three cubs. She abandons her nomadic lifestyle until the cubs are large enough to accompany her. She keeps them hidden for the first eight weeks and moves them from one location to the next until they are old enough to start learning to hunt. They get their first taste of meat at 6 or 7 weeks old and stop suckling after about 3 months of age. The cubs continue to live with their mothers for two years.

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The leopard’s coat does not belong on humans.

Leopards have long been hunted for their soft fur—used to make coats and ceremonial robes—as well as for their claws, whiskers, and tails, which are popular as fetishes.   

Leopards can be a nuisance to locals.

When brought into close contact with human settlements, leopards may prey on livestock. Pastoralists will retaliate and kill leopards in retribution or will attempt to exterminate leopards in a move to prevent livestock killings.


Our solutions to conserving the leopard:

  • Work with local people.

    African Wildlife Foundation works closely with pastoralist communities to institute preventative measures to protect livestock from predation. In Tanzania, AWF is building bomas for communities living in close proximity to carnivores. Bomas are predator-proof enclosures where livestock are kept to prevent their attack. By taking proactive steps, we are able to prevent both livestock and carnivore deaths.

  • Use Global Positioning System (GPS) collars to study leopards.

    AWF believes that the key to ensuring the future of the leopard lies in an integrated approach to conservation that looks not only at the species itself, but at the needs of local people, land use, and the ecosystem as a whole. This approach to conservation led AWF to launch the Greater Kruger Leopard Conservation Science Project in the Kruger National Park area in South Africa. AWF researchers have placed GPS collars on leopards to study their populations, evaluate resource competition with other carnivores, and study leopard interactions with people. 

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